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Managing High-Enrollment Online Classes

Overview: There are a number of challenges with managing a high-enrollment online course, both from student success and efficiency perspectives. Creating a sense of community and inclusion is important to many students. Increased sense of belonging is a key predictor of student success. Federal student aid regulations therefore require that our online courses have "regular and substantive engagement" between instructor and students, and student-student interaction is also strongly encouraged. It is a common misconception that because online classes don't have physical constraints, such as the number of seats in a room, that enrollment can be increased indefinitely. However, as enrollment increases, more instructor time must be spent responding to student questions, providing prompt and meaningful feedback on submitted work, and monitoring for academic integrity and for any needed intervention with students who are struggling. With higher enrollment, there are increased revenues to the organizational unit (the department, the college, and/or the university), so that unit is expected to reinvest at least some of those resources into preserving quality as the course grows in size.

Tracking Student Progress As class size increases, it becomes more difficult to keep track of which students have failed to turn in work, or who might be struggling. The tools in the LMS allow an instructor to monitor student activity at a glance. Blackboard has three tools in the Evaluation section of the Course Management menu; Course Reports, Performance Dashboard, and Retention Center. Each is tailored for a different way of tracking student work, either individually or by assignment.

Effective Use of TAs and Graders In some high enrollment classes, especially those where a lot of manual grading is necessary, such as in intensive writing classes, you may be assigned one or more graders. However, this can create consistency problems, and you might spend just as much time managing your graders as you would doing the grading yourself. One suggestion is to provide samples of excellent, good, fair, and poor work and go over these carefully with your graders in advance, pointing out the things you're looking for. You should definitely spot check the scores and feedback assigned by your graders to ensure they're doing it the way you want. Setting up a rubric-based grading system can take a lot of the variability out of grading. The extra work at the front end pays off later.

What Scales Up, What Doesn't? While multiple choice exams are auto-graded, and require little intervention, meaning that they can scale up easily, this is generally regarded as not a best practice, particularly if there are only a few high stakes exams. This was the strategy of MOOCs (massively open online courses) but the success rate in MOOCs has been dismally low. High stakes multiple choice tests that are heavy on memorization also make students more prone to cheat, and then you're spending most of your time on surveillance and punishment; not the reason most of us wanted to become educators.

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Alternative Assessment Strategies Many of the following can replace multiple choice exams, while having the added benefit of reducing cheating, increasing critical thinking skills, and creating community. Assignments of these types address higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy.